Depending on who you ask, the Toronto Raptors are either in hot pursuit of Cleveland Cavaliers center Andre Drummond, or it is nothing more than blowing smoke. Either way, Drummond won’t be playing for the Cavaliers in the near future as he is firmly on the trading block.
The Raptors badly need a center, which has become abundantly clear through the first third of the season. Toronto ranks 28th in defensive rebounding and dead-last in overall rebounding. They also rank 28th in free throws allowed, which is largely a product of how much the Raptors overcompensate to hide their weaknesses in the middle. The Raptors allow the fourth-fewest number of restricted area attempts, but that is only possible because the Raptors over help and crowd every drive to the basket, which leaves them hugely vulnerable from the three-point line, and leaves them out of position and prone to fouling. Toronto has slid from second in defense last season, down to 19th.
Much of this is their own doing. The front office tried to re-sign Serge Ibaka on a discounted one-year deal in hopes of keeping the books clean for 2021, and it backfired. A spurned Ibaka joined Kawhi Leonard in Los Angeles, while Marc Gasol also opted to finish his career with the Lakers. That left the Raptors scrambling, and the best they could come up with was Alex Len (who was waived less than a month in) and Aron Baynes, who was coming off a career-year with Phoenix. The situation is akin to being in the bar at 2 a.m. when the lights come on, and essentially, the Raptors settled for what was left. Even though expectations were modest, Baynes has been a total disappointment on every level, which also doubles as the motto for the Raptors as a whole, after losing to the worst team in the league on Sunday.
the raptors were voluntarily switching fred onto KAT just to hide baynes 🙃 pic.twitter.com/C6ry96Evpv
— William Lou (@william_lou) February 15, 2021
Drummond would be a lifeline as compared to Baynes. He is far from a perfect player, and there are real concerns about committing long-term to a throwback center that hasn’t shown any inclination towards modernizing, but the Raptors aren’t in the market for perfect. The bottom line is that Drummond would come cheap, and he would be an upgrade. Just on that level, the deal would make sense. Even with his warts and all, adding Drummond would significantly improve the Raptors roster.
The tricky part is finding a deal that works. Drummond makes nearly $29 million on an expiring deal, and so the Raptors would need to send out roughly equivalent salary since they are already over the salary cap. That means either Kyle Lowry is involved (which would be entirely counterproductive towards winning) or that the Raptors would need to ship out multiple players just to match the money, which would necessitate additional teams being introduced so that the Cavaliers don’t suddenly have 20 players on their roster.
A four-for-one deal with Baynes, Norman Powell, Pat McCaw, and Terence Davis could theoretically work, or a smaller three-for-one with Baynes, Powell, and Chris Boucher is also possible if the Raptors waited until March 3 when Boucher is trade-eligible. The deal is unlikely include meaningful draft compensation for the Cavaliers, who acquired Drummond at last season’s trade deadline for two expiring veterans and two distant second-round picks. If anything, the Raptors might get something in return if Powell or Davis were to be rerouted elsewhere. Either way, constructing a deal that works will be difficult.
As for the player itself, Drummond is very much glass half-full. Drummond is one of the most prolific rebounders of all-time, and he would single-handedly resolve that issue for the Raptors. He can be quite skilled on the ball with a functional handle and fluid mobility that allows him to get into the paint on his own, or to function as a dribble hand-off threat. Drummond is also disruptive as a help defender with his length and agility allowing him to generate deflections, and he is a capable shot-blocker, albeit not as prolific as his athleticism may suggest. He also provides a dive threat on the pick-and-roll and is one of the few bigs in the league that pairs both quickness and power in the paint.
But then again, Drummond in theory has always been better than Drummond in actuality. He carries the label of being an empty stats player and has never contributed to a winning team. Drummond is known to be overeager offensively, calling his own number and forcing difficult driving shots that compromises his efficiency. He is also feeds more from others than what he contributes, given that he isn’t a threat to shoot, a significant liability at the line (career 47 percent foul shooter) and often ventures outside of his role.
Defensively, Drummond is a liability when switched onto smaller players, and has also been routed in the post, most notably by Joel Embiid. Most worrisome of all is that Drummond is prone to being baited into individual matchups that serve his ego more than the team itself. His focus wanes, and so does his intent, although that is common for talented players on losing teams.
(The Raptors have also turned Drummond into a dunk prop for the past decade, for what it is worth.)
The glass may be half-empty, but the Raptors are in a drought. Baynes is the least-productive starting center in the league, and although Boucher has the ability to produce like a starter, he is still far too slight to provide credible rim protection at a playoff level. If the Raptors have any hopes of even competing in the first round, they will need an upgrade, and Drummond would be that. He has never been part of a winning system, with a celebrated coach, and a roster of accomplished players that are dedicated to winning. Lowry and Fred VanVleet would be the best point guards that Drummond has ever played with, and could make life very easy for the 27-year-old. If the Raptors could get him to buy into his role as a lob threat, a dogged rebounder, and as a disciplined defender, then it would also help to reshape the narrative of Drummond’s career as he approaches free agency.
It’s important to frame the Drummond discussion around the Raptors’ alternatives, not just as a deal within a vacuum. As currently constructed, the Raptors are headed for a first-round out, with Powell and Lowry both entering free agency with no assurances to return. If the Raptors intent to ride it out instead of rebuilding, they need to make the most of it. Drummond is hardly perfect, but he is likely the best center to be moved before the trade deadline on March 25, and he addresses real needs. And if it only costs the Raptors a handful of expiring deals, without losing any first-round picks, then it is a worthwhile gamble.
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